STAFF REVIEW of Phantom Trigger (Xbox One)


Monday, May 14, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Phantom Trigger Box art I’ve never heard the term or genre Neon Slasher before, but that’s what Phantom Trigger is marketed as, so expect plenty of hack and slash gameplay coupled with a vibrant neon color palette of pixel art. If you’ve played Hyper Light Drifter in the past, you’ll have a moment of déjà vu, as the gameplay is very similar on the surface.

You’re introduced to Stan, a normal middle class man leading an ordinary life, which is until he runs into some severe health issues. Given that his condition is likely fatal, Stan chooses to opt for an experimental treatment rather than a grossly expensive surgery. The majority of the gameplay has you controlling The Outsider, set in a mysterious and brightly neon world, with the vague connection between the two people and the worlds.

There’s clearly a connection between the two, with small snippets of story told through flashbacks, which was my favorite trait about Phantom Trigger, as there were some interesting reveals and twists. Slowly things will come together and make sense, but you won’t really know what’s happening, or why, until the very end.

A hack and slash at its core, Phantom Trigger relies heavily on its combat to keep you interested, the problem being that it’s simply not that enjoyable to begin with, as there’s a lack of variety. Each level has you searching around a wide area for paths to explore, with every corner infested by a variety of enemies, all whom are trying to stop and defeat you. You’ll find checkpoints randomly across the level, serving as respawn points when you inevitably die.


In certain spots you will find yourself locked into a small play area where you won’t be allowed to progress until every enemy is defeated, which usually occurs after a handful of waves. These aren’t terribly difficult, but they happen so frequently, and your checkpoints are so far and few in between, that you’ll have to attempt sections repeatedly due to dying.

It doesn’t help that there’s no tutorial, as I didn’t know that I had different types of attacks or that combos were a thing, as you need to rely on them heavily throughout the 6-hour or so adventure. A great example of this shortcoming is when I came across the first puzzle. Four pillars appeared of different colors, popping up at different intervals. I kept hitting them but I was doing something wrong, and when I did so, enemies would spawn. After about 20 minutes I was unable to figure out what I was doing wrong after repeated fails and deaths.

As it turns out, The Outsider actually has 3 separate weapons and attacks, conveniently color coded as well. A blue quick slashing ice sword, heavy fire knuckles, and a green whip that allows you to pull in enemies. If this was taught to me beforehand, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time on the color based ‘Simon Says’ puzzle, as all I needed to do was match my specific weapons to the pillars in order.

You also have a quick dash that allows you to briefly teleport in the direction you aim, allowing you to phase through attacks, avoid enemies and traverse levels quicker. Combine all of these elements and you have the basics of the combat system, yet for some reason though, even after hours of gameplay, it didn't feel natural. Individual weapons don’t have combos, but combined attacks in three hit sequences, and you’ll perform combos, something you’ll need to almost exclusively rely on to reach the credits.


There’s only a handful of combos in the game, but there’s clearly one or two that are superior, so eventually the combat devolves into spamming the same button combinations until you win, or die and try again. The combos are all about timing, as is the rest of combat, though most enemies are repeated throughout the game and take a lot of damage to defeat. There are boss fights to spice things up a bit, though most of these aren’t anything special and simply have you attacking it along with waves of endless enemies.

With the never ending bombardment of enemies thrown at you, I expected there to be an interesting progression system, something that would improve your abilities or made you stronger. Alas, that isn’t the case here. Your weapons will naturally level up the more you use them, but you don’t ever become stronger with their attacks. Instead, certain combos require your weapons to be at a specific level, so that’s really the only progression you’ll make. It was disappointing to not have your weapons become stronger over time, forcing you to rely on the combo attacks solely for the majority of your damage.

For those that enjoy streaming, there’s some built in Mixer integration, which I hope catches on with more games. Should you have an audience to stream to, your spectators can decide to give you more health, upgrade your weapons, or of course spawn enemies. Given that this is the internet, expect to have many more enemies spawned if you do decide to stream with the Mixer integration turned on.


While the combat was repetitive and I felt somewhat let down, the art style is very aesthetically pleasing. The neon isn’t terribly 'in-your-face', nor does it look like it’s ripped straight from the 80’s, but it’s colorful, bright and vibrant at the same time. While the level design lacks variety, the pixel art is wonderfully done and flows naturally. Audio is on the same level, as each attack, especially the fire punch, sounds distinct, unique and powerful. This is all wrapped with a great electronic soundtrack that fits the mood and visual style of Phantom Trigger perfectly.

While Phantom Trigger looks attractive and very inviting, the lack of any meaningful progression and repetitive combat throughout really hinders its enjoyment. Priced at $18.99 (CAD), your enjoyment is going to solely be based on how much you find on repeating the same combos over and over fun or not. After the first few hours, I wasn’t enjoying the gameplay much aside from knowing that I was close to another story segment, something I did enjoy.

If you’re looking for a new weekend game to play and be done with, check out Phantom Trigger when it’s on sale. At $10 I could see this doing much better, but as it stands right now, it’s an alright game that simply lacks motivational power to entice you to continue on.




Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10

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